Australia's agony as Socceroos bow out of World Cup; Peru savour parting gift
SOCHI, Russia -- Three quick points on Australia 0-2 Peru in Group C at the World Cup on Tuesday afternoon:
1. Australia's damp squib, Peru's welcome souvenir
There can be no complaints from Australia, who were as competitive as usual here but exited the World Cup after losing 2-0 to a clearly superior Peru side.
In any event they would have exited with a win after Denmark's draw with France, but they have run out bottom of Group D and the final standings look fair. Excellent goals from Andre Carrillo and Paolo Guerrero gave Peru a souvenir from their entertaining Russian cameo, but the Socceroos will reflect on a damp squib of a tournament.
Australia enjoyed most of the early territory, although a number of promising positions around the box failed to translate into clear opportunities. Then they went behind and found themselves with a mountain to climb. It was a sumptuous opener from Carrillo, who lashed a diagonal volley across Mat Ryan from the edge of the box after running on to Guerrero's chipped cross, and now Bert van Marwijk's side needed two of their own and a favour from France.
They could have replied with at least one before half-time. Tom Rogic was at the heart of their best work and slalomed through the Peru defence only to be denied by the legs of Pedro Gallese; the Celtic playmaker then opened them up with a wonderful pass for Robbie Kruse, whose centre would have been converted by Mathew Leckie had Anderson Santamaria not intervened brilliantly.
Those chances boded well for a second-half recovery, but instead Peru quickly went two up. It was a lovely moment for Guerrero, whose participation at the World Cup had been in doubt until a doping ban was overturned. His sharp turn and finish were what his performance deserved and now Peru could enjoy themselves further.
Australia continued to flicker in response, Tim Cahill causing a degree of trouble after his introduction, but Peru would come closest to another goal when Christian Cueva thudded the base of the post after a slick counter. They saw the game out to olés and a carnival atmosphere.
2. Goals, vibrant football a bittersweet end for Peru
If only Peru could have produced a performance this clinical when it really mattered. They arguably produced more free-flowing football in losing bravely to Denmark and France but looked a well-rounded, composed side here, scoring two fine goals and prompting thoughts about what might have been.
Guerrero provided a warming storyline and Carrillo's strike, in particular, served notice of the flair at their disposal. The hope must be that, in four years' time, they are able to bring their vibrant style to the top table once again.
There was a pang of regret surrounding their participation in this game from the outset. It was farewell to their mass of vocal, vibrant supporters, perhaps the best traveling contingent to have visited Russia this summer; it was also goodbye to one of this World Cup's most exciting teams and, given the number of chances they had missed in their previous games, the sense persisted that it had not needed to be that way.
Nonetheless there was little chance of Ricardo Gareca's side easing off. That was obvious even before kick-off in a stadium that reverberated to an echoing cacophony of red- and white-clad fans, whose pride in a first World Cup appearance since 1982 has been palpable for the last fortnight.
The team responded in kind, operating at a high tempo throughout, even if they appeared slightly less cavalier earlier in the tournament. They will have learned a lot from the last fortnight; eventually they found a way to win too late in the day but several of their players will surely be back.
Edison Flores, an exciting winger, is just 24 and the midfielder Renato Tapia, a year his junior, played intelligently throughout here. Their challenge is to become regular World Cup performers now -- something a 48-team tournament should make possible -- and nobody would turn their nose up at the chance to see them again soon.
3. Lack of firepower costs Australia
In the end Australia were not humiliated in Russia but simply did not have the firepower to hurt their opponents. Quality was lacking at the sharp end and there was too much reliance on Rogic, who had an excellent first half here before fading.
Around him there was little subtlety and, although Cahill has had a fine career, it said something about the resources available to Van Marwijk when Cahill was the first substitute the manager turned to at 2-0.
They need to find a similarly talismanic replacement but for now their biggest hope was Rogic, who can be a mercurial individual but began this match by spraying the ball pleasingly from side to side and became more incisive as the first half went on. He was behind all of Australia's best work, but those around him were not always on the same wavelength. In Tomi Juric -- who replaced the injured Andrew Nabbout up front -- they had a spearhead who, with just eight goals in 37 internationals, has never really looked threatening enough to thrive on this stage. He miscontrolled an Aaron Mooy pass just before Guerrero's goal when any semblance of good technique would have brought a clear chance .
The Socceroos have looked what they are: a team in flux after Van Marwijk's January arrival. They lack an obvious identity even if, as a rough early challenge from Mile Jedinak on Christian Cueva showed, they will always strive to play hard. They faded as the game went on here, aware throughout the last half-hour that their race was run, and a day that seemed set up for heroics ended limply.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.